Education and roads are top priorities in ‘budget for growth’

EDUCATION and roads in Argyll and Bute are to benefit from total investment of more than £50 million over the next three years after the local authority’s budget proposals for 2012-13 to 2014-15 received the overwhelming backing of councillors.

The allocation of £30m of capital on education – including substantial sums for new schools in Dunoon and Campbeltown – and of £21m on the area’s roads were the most eye-catching elements of what council leader Dick Walsh called “a budget for growth” across Argyll and Bute.

Other significant proposals approved at Thursday’s annual budget meeting included the allocation of £700,000 towards a new ‘resilience fund’, set up to help local communities prepare for civil contingencies such as the aftermath of severe storms, and a new ‘youth opportunities fund’ of £200,000, which is to be set up to improve the employment prospects of the area’s young people.

Community councils will receive additional support worth £10,000 a year, while £100,000 a year has been set aside to provide festive decorations across the area and an additional £750,000 in ‘preventative spending’ is to be put towards making changes in ‘early years’ and health and social care services.

Spending in specific geographical areas of the council will include £7.5m towards a new swimming pool and leisure facility in Helensburgh, £2.275m towards flood defences on the Helensburgh pier head, £2.595m towards office rationalisation in Helensburgh, £2m for capital works at Dunoon pier,

contributions of £11,000 towards the running of the Jura-Tayvallich passenger ferry, a one-off £20,000 grant to Auchindrain Highland Township museum, an additional £50,000 towards the Argyll Mausoleum project in Kilmun, and £3,000 to support Lochgilphead’s Lantern Parade.

All the savings proposals outlined in the council’s draft budget papers were approved, though most of these relate to management and operational savings.

The construction of a new Campbeltown Grammar School and a new Dunoon Primary School will be paid for by using the contents of a ‘smoothing fund’ which was created to assist with payments by the council under the public-private NPDO partnership, which built ten new schools across five sites between 2005 and 2007, and its waste management public-private partnership.

A budget for additional loan charges worth £1.324 million is to be created to fund borrowing in order to support additional capital investment of £16.5 million.

“The budget strikes a balance between protecting and enhancing services to the vulnerable, and also investing for future economic growth and wellbeing,” Cllr Walsh said.

“Our budget will support investment of nearly £200m in Argyll and Bute. This includes £21m over the three years on roads reconstruction, and nearly £45m on education.

“With these figures in mind, this is clearly a budget for growth and recovery. It is also a prudent budget. It is affordable across the three years, and will see a budget in 2014-15 that is sustainable going forward.”

Attempting to forestall accusations of electioneering, with the next local authority elections less than three months away, Cllr Walsh said he hoped councillors on all sides would come together to support his budget proposals – although, as we report elsewhere (see link to the right of this story), his hopes of attracting unanimous support were dashed when Bute SNP councillors Robert Macintyre and Isobel Strong, along with Helensburgh and Lomond opposition independent George Freeman, refused to back the plans.